Epeolatry Book Review: The Night Guest by Hildur Knútsdóttir


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Title: The Night Guest
Author: Hildur Knútsdóttir
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Tor Nightfire,
Release Date: 3rd September, 2024

Synopsis:Hildur Knutsdottir’s The Night Guest is an eerie and ensnaring story set in contemporary Reykjavík that’s sure to keep you awake at night.
Iðunn is in yet another doctor’s office. She knows her constant fatigue is a sign that something’s not right, but practitioners dismiss her symptoms and blood tests haven’t revealed any cause.
When she talks to friends and family about it, the refrain is the same ― have you tried eating better? exercising more? establishing a nighttime routine? She tries to follow their advice, buying everything from vitamins to sleeping pills to a step-counting watch. Nothing helps.
Until one night Iðunn falls asleep with the watch on, and wakes up to find she’s walked over 40,000 steps in the night . . .
What is happening when she’s asleep? Why is she waking up with increasingly disturbing injuries? And why won’t anyone believe her?

I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland with its majestic waterfalls, natural thermal baths, beautiful glaciers, and shimmering views of the Northern Lights. BUT after reading The Night Guest by Hildur Knútsdóttir, I am reconsidering my holiday options. Forget the danger of Iceland’s active 32 volcanoes— it’s the danger within the cities, within society itself, that Knútsdóttir explores in this contemporary horror. 

Translated by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Night Guest is thought-provoking and builds tension with ease as the protagonist Iðunn attempts to discover why she is fatigued after a good night’s rest. Knútsdóttir does an excellent job representing how doctors and even friends and family behave when faced with a woman’s health problem. It’s a hot topic in the media as women feel unheard when their symptoms are blamed on stress, hormones, and the worst excuse given—it’s all in their head. Iðunn recognises this immediately with her first doctor and asks for another. However, even with a new doctor, Iðunn has to jump through hoops in order to convince and discover possible causes for her fatigue. It is a frustration I identified with. 

Iðunn is blinded by her fatigue, making mistake after mistake, which in any other situation would have provided light comedy, but for me, this just built up frustration… until she wears her step-counting watch to bed. This mistake sent a chill down my spine, but like Iðunn who looks it up online, I reasoned this new symptom to be due to sleepwalking. However, Iðunn wakes up every morning finding something new upon her body, like blood. Her body fights against any attempt Iðunn tries to keep herself from sleepwalking. To me, this hinted that something else was going on. Knútsdóttir conveys the loss of control with a breathless abandonment especially as Iðunn’s options dwindle to zero. Iðunn tries to live her life like everything is okay, while the unexplained strangeness escalates. 

I wasn’t sure what to make of Iðunn. She is a practical person who would prefer not to deal with other people. Slowly it is revealed that she is dealing with a death in the family, which might explain her quirks, but she denies any grief. Iðunn is also a cat lover, but even the cats turn their backs to her, so it overall felt like Iðunn was losing her identity, losing herself as she can’t seek the help she needs. There is no safety net for her even from her friends and family and she becomes very vulnerable.

Unfortunately, The Night Guest doesn’t come with content warnings, which it should especially since there are animal killings and body horror. As a reader who is used to gore, this wasn’t a problem, but The Night Guest feels like a wonderful opportunity, a gateway for any reader who isn’t into horror. 

For a translated story, The Night Guest is a fantastic read that manages to express hopelessness, panic, and anxiety. The terror that haunts the protagonist is never fully explained, and the ending is abrupt. The Night Guest reads almost like a diary as the protagonist spirals out of control. If you’re looking for a contemporary thrill, goosebumps, and something that creeps into your mind when you’re not looking, then The Night Guest is for you.


Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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